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The Relaxation Response
When we think of relaxation we usually think of activities like watching TV, enjoying a drink, catching up with friends or going to the gym. All of these activities have a place in a balanced lifestyle. However, whilst they might be enjoyable, they're unable to provide the deep rest needed to revitalize our bodies and minds. In fact, they can actually place more strain on an already over-stimulated nervous system.
Relaxation isn't just about taking time-out or 'vegging' on the couch. True relaxation is a physiological state of deep rest where the body's metabolism actually slows down. This biological state, called the relaxation response, acts to balance the strain placed on our bodies through stress.
The direct benefits of the relaxation response include:
- lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- slowed breathing rate
- reduced muscle tension
- increased digestive and immune functioning
- decreased metabolic rate and oxygen consumption, and
- a quieter, calmer mind (increased alpha wave activity).
When we are deeply relaxed every system of the body has the opportunity to repair and rejuvenate. This is the process of natural healing, and the benefits are more than just physical. Relaxation works to calm and quieten the mind leading to improved concentration, focus and clarity.
Best of all, the effects of the relaxation response are cumulative. Regular practice of deep-relaxation for just 20 minutes a day can actually lower the resting level of the nervous system so that we remain more relaxed more of the time.
Deep-relaxation is currently used in the treatment of a range of medical conditions including anxiety and depression, insomnia, high blood pressure and heart disease, asthma, diabetes, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, immune disorders, infertility and chronic pain. In short, deep-relaxation recharges our batteries. It's like a power boost for our body and mind!
Find out how to reduce anxiety using the relaxation response through our Learn to Relax program.
Dr Herbert Benson MD coined the term 'relaxation response' in the 1960's. Read more about his relaxation response research.
Repeated activation of the Relaxation Response can reverse sustained problems in the body and mend the internal wear and tear brought on by stress.
Herbert Benson MD,
Harvard Medical School